In honour of Black History Month, we have decided to look at influential black achievers, who have shown the world that you must see past the label and focus on the ability and that being autistic doesn’t mean you cannot pursue your dreams and reach your full potential.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH 2021 (October 1 – October 31)
While Black History Month is synonymous with prominent figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama, Marcus Rashford, Lennox Lewis, Diane Abbot, Zadie Smith and Lewis Hamilton, it is not always obvious that some achievers are autistic,
Read on to find out about the 5 incredible autistic people you may want to know about. Get ready to be inspired!
Stephen Wiltshire MBE, Hon.FSAI, Hon.FSSAA (1974 – today)
Stephen aka the “Human camera” is an amazing British architectural artist who draws and paints incredibly detailed and beautiful largescale cityscapes, skylines and street scenes from memory after seeing it just once. Wiltshire was non-verbal during his early childhood and became fully verbal by age nine. He was diagnosed as being autistic when he was three. The same year, his father tragically died in a motorbike accident. At age four, he was started to attend to a special school for autistic children called Queensmill School in Shepherd’s Bush. He had special interest in artwork, which his teachers encouraged with his early work focusing on cars and post-earthquake cityscapes.
In February, 1987, Stephen, then 13-years-old, caught the public imagination, when he appeared on a BBC programme about autistic savants. On the show drew before the camera an accurate image of St. Pancras station, which he had visited first time just few hours before. Following the programme, the BBC received many telephone calls and inquiries about Stephen and his artistic talents. Ultimately, an entire volume of his works entitled Drawings was published in 1987 and he has since established himself as a highly respected and sought-after professional artist.
Visit his website here.
Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849–1908)
Thomas “Blind Tom” was an African American child musical prodigy who was sold into slavery, along with the rest of his family. Thomas’ was born blind, and also survived being killed, as he had no economic value to his slave owners. However, with his superior and instant mastery of the piano, and his ability to hear a short selection of complex music and play it back, Wiggins overcame hardships in his childhood. Wiggins was so talented that from the age of four his was already a virtuosic pianist and touring Georgia in the in the Southeastern region of the United States. At only ten years old, he was the highest paid pianist of the 19th century and at ten years (1860), he became the first Black musician to perform at the White House, at the request of President James Buchanan. Wiggins would go on to perform concerts throughout the Americas and Europe. Elton John was inspired by Wiggins and composed a song, “The Ballad of Blind Tom“, from his 2013 album The Diving Board, in honour of him.
Listen to Elton John’s The Ballad of Blind Tom here.
Talia Hibbert – author (1995 – today)
Talia Hibbert is a self-publishing prodigy (10 books during her last year of college) and a prolific New York Times and USA Today bestselling British author who is known for writing sexy, funny and diverse romance novels, featuring honest and positives representations of people of marginalised identities. Drawing on her own life experiences her novels are full of wonderful representations and characters of varying race, ethnicity, body shape, sexual orientation, neuro-diversity and life experience.
After self-publishing several books on her own (her first wrote in just four days), her traditional publishing debut came in 2019 with Get a Life, Chloe Brown – a title that centres on a protagonist who lives with chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia, like Hibbert herself. One of her earlier books, A Girl Like Her (2018), the main character, Ruth is a black autistic woman. Her third book in The Brown Sisters series, Act Your Age, Eve Brown (2021), also features two autistic leads. In her LGBTQ romance Work For It (2019), one of the protagonists juggles finding love while living with depression.
She has also written one Halloween-themed paranormal novella Mating the Huntress, featuring a handsome cursed werewolf, a knife-happy heroine, and forbidden lust.
Hibbert like all great authors pushes the boundaries reaching new readers and changing the romance genre for the better.
Visit her website here.
Joshua Beckford (2004 – today)
Joshua Beckford, is a child prodigy from Tottenham, London, who was the youngest person to ever be admitted to the prestigious Oxford University, at just 6-years-old, gaining a distinction in both Philosophy and History. He has been widely recognised as one of the smartest kids on the planet.
Joshua Beckford has never been the typical child. He was adopted at the age of 10 months old. His biological mother was not able to care for him and agreed that he should be adopted instead of him growing up in the care system. At two years old, he could read fluently, write and understand the alphabet using phonics and point to different colours on a chart. By age three he was speaking Japanese and Chinese Mandarin, and had taught himself to touch-type on a computer before he could write using a pencil. The young scholar was diagnosed with high functioning autism at age 7, a year after starting at Oxford University.
Joshua is very talented in many other fields, but his main goal is to become a neurosurgeon, and since he was four years old he has been practicing complex medical surgery such as gall bladder removals and appendectomy procedures on a computer simulator on his dad’s laptop.
In addition to all of his exceptional academic success, he is the face of the National Autistic Society’s Black and Minority (BME) campaign. Joshua is a passionate fundraiser and his efforts help raise money for three Autism Charities, one in the U.K and two in Africa. He also campaigns to save the environment and in 2016, wrote and presented a Poem ‘Saving Mother Earth’ at the TED x International Conference in Vienna. He has won numerous awards including the Positive Role Model of the year at the National Diversity Awards in 2017 and is an ambassador to a number of Non-Government Organisations, supporting families in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa, as well as the United Kingdom.
To find out more about this remarkable young man, visit his website here.
John J. Howard (1983 – today)
John Howard, also known as Doomsday after the infamous villain responsible for killing Superman, is an American professional mixed martial artist currently competing in the Middleweight division of the Professional Fighters League and previously signed to the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Known for his explosive knockout power, wrestling skills and takedowns.
John Howard wasn’t diagnosed as being on the spectrum for autism until he was 33, following years of enduring obstacles such as being “relegated”, as he saw it, to special education classes for years, mocked as being “stupid”, struggled in classrooms and other group settings, and countless scraps on the hardscrabble streets of Dorchester in Boston.
Referring to being on the spectrum for autism, Howard said, “My advantage is actually my weapon. The way I process things happening is totally different, but it’s beneficial to me because what I do for a living, I should be processing it that way and it makes me a better fighter. So, this, actually I think in my case, amplifies my fighting. Maybe that’s the reason I am a great fighter. It made me better.”
Shawn Graham, who trained Howard, noticed autistic traits even before the diagnosis, recognising that he was happiest and more comfortable training on his own, obsessing over the same thing and repetitively doing it over and over again until he got it right. Often, training that long he would have to be kicked out of the FAF Gym in Holbrook, Massachusetts, where he trained, and told to go home.
During October the UK celebrates Black History Month, with events up and down the country, from exhibitions, film and theatre to comedy shows and food. If you would like to get involved and discover more about black history, you will find a full listing of events and exhibitions taking place across the UK on the official Black History Month website www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk .
When the world can often seem lonely for autistic people, their families and their friends, a call to I AM can be a lifeline. call us today on 0161 866 8483